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Ditching Back-To-School Night Anxiety: A Guide For New Teachers

For new teachers, the back-to-school days of orientation, school meetings, and classroom set-up are long and tiring. In addition to meeting new colleagues, pawing through boxes of curriculum, and taming unruly copy machines, most teachers are also planning a meet-the-teacher night or other parent event. To reduce stress and help you make the most of your back-to-school night, here’s a quick planning guide.

Start With A Vision

Before you start checking things off your to-do list, pause to solidify your vision. Consider what impression you want to leave with parents. What are the most important ideas you want to communicate? What tasks are essential to complete? Is this the year to emphasize SEL skills? Your vision should drive everything from the way you greet parents to how you respond to questions you can’t answers yet. It will also help you prioritize tasks and figure out what can wait until later if you run out of time.

Part of my vision is to emphasize community involvement so I like to take pictures of each family who attends. Then, I print and hang the pictures on the wall before the first day of school. The bonus is that the photos help me learn names and faces of my new students and their families. I also include time for parents to write letters of encouragement which I hand out to students during the year.   

Tweak The Format

Based on your vision and your skills, consider what format will work best for you. There’s no need to stick with the typical Powerpoint presentation if that isn’t your style. If students are already back in session, perhaps you opt for a student-led format. If you get flustered talking to large groups of parents, consider an interactive centers-style evening where parents circulate to individual stations to get information and complete tasks.

When I taught first grade, I liked to include activities that parents and children could do together. For several years, my grade level worked together to run If You Give A Mouse A Cookie-themed evenings where parents made cookie dough with students while they were learning about math in the kitchen and literacy skills at home. For me, the interactive set-up fit my personality and my classroom vision. We loved it so much that we threw a If You Give A Mouse A Pancake-themed follow-up night complete with pancakes for all.  

Academic Prep

Especially in your first years of teaching, it’s important to think about how you’ll explain grade level academic expectations to parents. You should be able to explain each subject in just a few sentences. Prepare by studying state standards and looking at end-of-year exemplars. Make a list for each subject: By the end of the year students should be able to do X and Y. I like to have examples ready so I can help parents picture what grade level work looks like.

For other academic work, you may need to collaborate with your grade-level team. Be ready to explain homework expectations, any special grading criteria, late work criteria, and digital policies.

Parent Involvement

Back-to-school night is your opportunity to make parent involvement easy. First, think about how and when parents can be involved. Are there field trips coming up? Do you have special class events parents can attend? Then, make sure the paperwork is in order. Most schools have volunteer forms or background checks parents need to complete before working with students. I like to have extra copies on hand so parents can complete all paperwork immediately.

Be prepared to share your communication preferences with parents. Consider having contact forms or business cards ready to hand out. If you’re using a digital communication platform like Remind 101, give parents the chance to sign up right away. 

Details, Details, Details

Once you’ve planned the larger format, then start sweating the details. Here’s a quick list of details you might want to consider:

  • Sign-in sheets: I like to have parents sign in next to their child’s name because it’s hard for me to read signatures later but other people use multiple sheets at different tables.
  • Clear acrylic sign holders are an easy, clean way to display information and give directions. Plus you can re-use them throughout the school year and at future parent nights.
  • Keep a notebook with you where you can jot down follow-up items.
  • If you’ll need translation services, get those details in advance.

Good luck on your back-to-school night!

Written by Marissa King

Marissa teaches 5th grade at Tulsa Public Schools where she spills tea and misuses the coolest slang. She is also a Yale National Fellow.